Thursday, 30 May 2013

Christian leadership and the willingness to employ lethal force for the sake of what is right

*

From Alastair Roberts:

It isn’t much reflected upon, precisely because it is so scandalous to contemporary sensibilities, but among the chief common traits of the great leaders of the people of God in Scripture is their peculiar willingness to employ lethal force for the sake of what was right: 

Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, David, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’s closest disciples: James, John, and Peter, Paul, etc. The Levites and people like Phinehas were even especially set apart for divine service through radical acts of violent ‘zeal’.

Far from being the most empathetic persons that were looked to for moral guidance and leadership, it was the least naturally empathetic who were established by God at the head of his people.

Kevin Dutton has commented on the way that the traits that are most associated with ‘psychopaths’ are perhaps especially pronounced among many leading saints: ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action.

It is the nerve to resist the powerful pull of feelings upon our moral judgment and will that best equips us to be self-disciplined and to lead others.

http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/an-ethic-of-nerve-and-compassion

**

Alastair Roberts really knows his stuff when it comes to the Bible, and has thought long and deeply about what he knows. So, please, let's not hear any more uninformed stuff about Christianity being intrinsically pacifist, nice, submissive!

*


26 comments:

  1. This seems like the mirror image of the secular choosing either to be nice and ineffective or nasty and effective. When Christians are nasty and effective Christians call it "good" and when non-Christians are nasty and effective Christians call it "evil" but it's the same game with a different name.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Daybreaker - This is exactly my point.

    You do not believe in a deity, so from your perspective to live for God is all just delusion, and everything inevitably boils down to "good and ineffective versus evil and effective".

    Only for the religious is good and effective even a theoretical possibility.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a Christian, and also a martial artist for many years (black belt in Kenpo--a style devoted to surviving a no rules confrontation on the street) I have given a lot of thought to the question of the ethics of lethal force. It's a complex question to which I cannot possibly do justice in the space of 'comments'. But here are some high points.

    First of all, I think it is essential to understand that there is a ‘taxonomy’ of violence. The three main varieties are ‘revenge/saving face’, ‘predator’ (they want something you have), and ‘psycho’ (the attacker simply enjoys inflicting pain).

    The full context of ‘turn the other cheek’ is “it was said of old: ‘eye for an eye’, but I say to you: turn the other cheek.” Clearly Jesus is talking about revenge. And as Gandhi put it, the problem with ‘eye for an eye’ is that pretty soon the whole world will be blind. We see that in the Middle East—the Arabs kill some Jews, who kill some Arabs in revenge, who kill some Jews in revenge—forever and ever. On the other hand: one day my sensei arrived at the dojo laughing, that he had accidentally backed into someone in the parking lot, the guy had jumped out of his car wanting to take out my sensei; instead this martial arts master ran around the car, keeping the car between himself and the other guy, all the while assuring him ”it’s all my fault, I’m really sorry, I have insurance, it will get fixed.” Finally the guy calmed down and they exchanged information—the guy never knew how badly it would have gone if he had cornered my sensei.

    The ethical response to a predator is going to really depend on the context. Things can go wrong, no matter how trained you are, and a wallet is not worth anyone getting hurt.

    But the threat of bodily harm is a different story. I don’t see how the kingdom of God is advanced in any way by letting a psycho hurt me or anyone else.

    As a thought experiment: if Jesus came across someone raping a child, would He just ‘turn the other cheek’, or would He put a stop to it? If potentially lethal force is the ethical response in one situation, the possibility is open for it to be ethical in others.

    Just my $0.02

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your list didn't include Jesus himself. The central mystery of Christianity, it seems to me, is why Jesus chose to associate himself with that list of thugs and murderers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @d - This didn't always strike people as a mystery - rather simply how it was: realism.

    The strange thing is that the secular critique of Christianity in the 19th century was that it was a blood-thirsty religion of blood sacrifice and harsh judgment (I imbibed this from George Bernard Shaw); whereas now the secular critique is often that Christianity is an insipid religion of submissive nice-ness.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.

    Violent resistance to the spirit of this age looks like Anders Behring Breivik. It looks like the Taliban shooting a girl in the head so that she won't go to school. Those are effective means but they are evil. Why can people identify, quatify, catalogue the problems of the secular West but solutions are either ineffective or evil? I've thought a lot about this and at the edge of sleep one night it finally came to me, the solution is the cross of Christ. You want a quick, effective, political or military solution? So did the Jews in the time of Jesus. A suffering passive Son of God made no sense to them as passively suffering in the face of evil makes no sense to us now. If you seek to save your life you will lose it. Are you afraid that evil will win? Will the true church be snuffed out? The Bible tells me that we will be led like lambs to the slaughter but the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Bruce,

    What your pointing to is the fundamental right between the old and new testaments. They just don't make sense together. They contradict in any number of ways, with no clear way of reconciling. The only method is to simply choose one over the other.

    Also, Jesus's pacifism was not just because he needed to die on the cross. He clearly instructed others to be pacifists as well.

    Let's try to remember the central conundrum of Jesus's time. Should the Jews resist the Romans? The Romans were demanding they not just pay taxes, but also make sacrifices to the emperor and worship him as a God. This is not allowed in their religion. So they can either give up their religion or come into conflict with the Romans. The question then was whether to fight or allow the Romans to do whatever they want and ultimately be killed if that was necessary. Jesus basically taught people it would be better to let the Romans kill you without a fight if they decide to force you to break your faith.

    What "Christians" did seems rather irrelevant. Are we to assume Constantine is a good Christian? The mass murdering ego obsessed psychopath? Most "Christians" throughout history are not very Christian, and this goes into overdrive when it becomes the state religion (and people join it to get ahead rather then believing).

    ReplyDelete
  8. I believe you must make a distinction between an individual Christian or the Christian church and the State. You could make a very strong and biblical argument for pacifism of the individual and the Church but a pacifist State would cease to be the State. This is a distinction made quite clearly in the Bible with the State called on to use violence to maintain justice. The failure of the State to act in a just manner does not give me license to seize the prerogative of the state. To do so would be responding to evil with evil. Of course, the State may include both individual Christians and church members but in that case they have been entrusted by God with authority to use violence.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Bruce Charlton: "You do not believe in a deity, so from your perspective to live for God is all just delusion, and everything inevitably boils down to "good and ineffective versus evil and effective"."

    From where I sit now I can see my altar: the sacred images bought and made, the candles, the bowls, the tools, the sacred books and other things, all in good order and with their space not infringed upon, because I know that when the sacred is not right nothing is right, and to displace the eternal for the sake of ephemeral convenience is foolishness itself. I have a lot of doubts, but as I see it doubt is nothing, practice is everything.

    I have your word for it that you pray too, to your god. Perhaps you will get around to choosing a version of Jesus you like one day; maybe the Mormon one or the substantially different mainstream Christian one. Whether you do or not, I accept that you are pious, in your way.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @asdf "What your pointing to is the fundamental right between the old and new testaments. They just don't make sense together. They contradict in any number of ways, with no clear way of reconciling. The only method is to simply choose one over the other."

    So far as you know.

    But extremely well informed, thoughtful and devout people whom I know, such as Alastair Roberts, and many I have read, say the opposite and can argue this convincingly to me - both in general and on a point by point basis.

    The best Christians have always seen the Bible as a unity, and if we can't perceive this, then the fault is ours.

    ReplyDelete
  11. @D " choosing a version of Jesus you like one day; maybe the Mormon one or the substantially different mainstream Christian one"

    You don't know enough to say this. BUt I don't blame you - it took me about five years of study to get past the misinformation and comprehend. Most people will never bother - but I'm afraid I cannot defer to them! If there is one thing on which there is no significant difference between the LDS and mainstream churches it is the character and role of Christ

    ReplyDelete
  12. Barnabas,

    "This is a distinction made quite clearly in the Bible with the State called on to use violence to maintain justice. The failure of the State to act in a just manner does not give me license to seize the prerogative of the state."

    If this is the case then there is no Christian way to resist an evil state. I.E. Pacifism.

    "The Bible tells me that we will be led like lambs to the slaughter but the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church in the end."

    I agree that the only Christian method that is consistent is being willing to die without resisting. I.E. if the world should fall so be it because I'll be saved in the next live.

    Bruce is not making this case. He's making the case that if the state won't do X, and X is right, then you should do X by force if necessary.

    @Bruce

    If so produce the relevant argument on this topic. That's what is being asked for.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Anti-Gnostic - I didn't publish your comment because you are tilting at windmills - you've got me almost completely wrong!

    Have you had a look at my book Thought Prison (link at sidebar to the left). That should cure you of some of the mistaken notions you have about my opinions.

    I would just add that to be anti-Leftist is *not* to be virtuous; although to be virtuous (nowadays) one *must* be anti-Leftist.


    ReplyDelete
  14. "Bruce is not making this case. He's making the case that if the state won't do X, and X is right, then you should do X by force if necessary."
    This is akin to a feminist saying that it's time for women to rule the Church/country/world since men have done a poor job of it. If I've learned anything over the last few years as I unfortunately lived out many of the things I learned in the "manosphere", it's that Satan would love to have us fight evil with evil. It is a very seductive proposition but leads only to abounding evil.

    ReplyDelete
  15. BARNABAS COMMENTED: "Daniel not only did not resist the evil state, her served the evil state to the extent that was possible without personally sinning. He understood that God was sovereign. Nebuchadnezzar was a rod in the hand of God against the Isrealites and when he had served God's purposes he was removed. (...)"

    ReplyDelete
  16. @Anti-Gnostic - To summarize the point in Thought Prison - I do not expect the secular Right to fight, but if they do fight I would not expect them to win (tattooed body builders on steroids like to have fights, and there are plenty of them in the UK, but motivating and organizing them into an effective military unit is another matter), and if they did - by a miracle - beat both the secular Left and the non-Christian religious Right, they would not make good leaders. The best that can be said - and it is probably true - is that sooner or later, if they got power, the secular Right would become religious, and probably eventually Christian.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Barnabas,

    I understand your position. It is theologically sound. However, it does require giving up this world (unless there is divine intervention).

    Since I've never seen divine intervention, nor is there any scientific evidence for past stories of divine intervention, its very hard for me to place faith in it. This is one thing I've found extremely confusing about the Bible. If Jesus really was going around healing the sick and making fish and bread appear out of nowhere how could ANYONE not believe in him. If Moses really was turning the Nile blood red and sending all those plagues how could the pharaoh not bow to him or his own people turn against him. And yet despite witnessing multiple miracles right in front of their eyes the vast majority of people in their own time don't believe these people. It makes no sense. And yet, if I'm to believe in any earthly salvation, I'm entirely reliant on divine intervention I've never seen, have no evidence for, and didn't even convince the people who experienced it.

    If I'm not going to rely on divine intervention I'm not sure how I can hope for earthly salvation against an evil state that shows no signs of being defeated if I can't oppose the state violently and winning an election is a laughable proposition. This is made especially damaging by the fact that that many of the evils perpetrated by the state are permanent to my community (example: immigration) that will outlast even the states death.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @asdf - "nor is there any scientific evidence for past stories of divine intervention,"

    But science excludes - as a matter of prior assumption - consideration of divine intervention as a scientific cause. It is not a failure of science to find divine intervention - it is that science excludes it from the start - of course it doesn't find it!

    "If Jesus really was going around healing the sick and making fish and bread appear out of nowhere how could ANYONE not believe in him."

    It tells you this in the Bible - there are always other alternative explanations for divine explanation. For example demonic explanations, fraud, mass hysteria, delusion.

    There are modern examples of multiple witness visions and the like, but people find them very easy to dismiss, nonetheless. Because people are sure that God doesn't exist, and divine interventions etc are impossible, then they *know* that all such claims are false, and it is just a matter of raising one objection after another.

    But miracles are not meant to be objective public proofs - they are meant to help the faith of individual people.

    I, like many Christians, have experienced small 'everyday' personal miracles of which I am certain, but I never describe or discuss them with anybody at all - they helped bring me to faith and continue to sustain my faith, and I have no interest in trying to convince anybody else of their validity.

    wrt to evidence of God - this is incomparably covered in Blaise Pascal's Pensees, on the theme of the hidden God. He explains why it is necessary that there be evidence of God for those who seek him, but not such as to compel belief.

    Actually, I don't think belief can ever be compelled in anybody - we have free will and that is that. Nobody, not even God, can compel or coerce anyone to believe. It is an awesome responsibility.

    ReplyDelete
  19. But miracles are not meant to be objective public proofs - they are meant to help the faith of individual people.

    I, like many Christians, have experienced small 'everyday' personal miracles of which I am certain, but I never describe or discuss them with anybody at all - they helped bring me to faith and continue to sustain my faith, and I have no interest in trying to convince anybody else of their validity.

    I very much agree with this. In the gospels Jesus did perform miracles to confirm his status as messiah but also denied miracles to group demanding them in order to believe. Blessed is he who has NOT seen and has believed.

    As for trusting God with the current state of the world, how will you trust his eternal (infinite and thus infinitely difficult) promises if you can't trust him to handle the temporal social political situation. Reading the bible the amazing thing is that there was ever a period of such common grace as to allow several thousand years of relative sanity. We are taught that the natural (by that I mean fallen) state of man is that of men in the time of Noah or of Sodom.
    Really you don't have an option. You are talking about forces that you could never defeat (though Christ has already defeated). You could die in a violent futile (evil) gesture or you can bring glory to God through submission to his will even unto death.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The Lord doesn't say that vengeance is Satan's. He says that it is his.
    We should be open, then, to the possibility that his non-resistance was related to his mission, was pedagogical, or was even tactical (almost certainly in the Roman Empire, non-violent Jewish martyrs were a much better bet for spreading the faith than going guerrilla).

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Bruce

    If someone came to me in biblical times and split the Red Sea I think that would be enough for me. Science has been a matter of empiricism for me. Truth is determined by experiment. If something seems impossible based on my understanding, but its done, either the person has done something way beyond the scientific and technological understanding of myself, or they really are a prophet. I'd start listening to what they have to say either way, and while there probably is evidence that could convince me the former rather then the ladder was true it would take a lot of convincing after such a demonstration (i.e. seeing the person act in an unholy way). It's hard to see anything Jesus did that would set of my charlatan/magician sensors.

    Joseph Smith on the other hand...but that's a digression.

    Bringing this back to the original matter, it is hard for me to see an earthly conclusion to the matter of the Cathedral. Whether the answer is that one can't use violence or if violence is only ok in Christianity if its sanctioned by a Christian state, the simple fact of the matter is the state is not Christian. The Cathedral controls the state. It will likely control the state for my whole lifetime. Even if the state fell under its own weight the changes instituted will cause permanent damage, and the successor state may not be the Cathedral but that doesn't mean it will be Christian. Outside of divine intervention I see no change to this state of affairs. And my faith in divine worldly intervention is low.

    Perhaps this is the state of affairs early Christians found vis a vis the Roman Empire. But then again they, and Jesus, where pacifists towards the Romans. If the Romans said they were going to feed them to the lions if they didn't make sacrifices then they didn't resist, they just went to the lions. Seems like we are back to my original point.

    If anything the Cathedral is a bit more insidious. It won't let one off as easily as being killed in the service of ones God. Instead one has to live a long life in which nearly every support mechanism for holy living is removed and nearly every societal feedback mechanism reinforces unholyness.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @asdf - I feel you need to spend a bit less time asking questions - there will always be questions, and more time thinking about the answers. And, dare I say, more time reading prayerfully? Despite your many listed concerns, I would guess you are closer than you may realize to a strong Christian faith, if you will allow it to happen. Shall we leave it at that for this thread?

    ReplyDelete
  23. re Alastair Roberts's point, empathy is not love. Is it part of love? Is it necessary? I wonder. I think that wanting what is best for someone naturally leads to some kind of connection with that person, and such a connection leads to empathy, IF the other person wants it and allows it, i.e. if they recognize that what you are offering is good, and they want it, and they open themselves up to accept it. If they don't want it, they don't accept it and they don't open themselves up, and there is no empathy. No REAL empathy. One immediate corollary of this is that someone who believes that good is a matter of personal opinion is capable of empathy but NOT capable of either giving or receiving genuine love...

    I think there are many illusions of empathy, i.e. people deluding themselves about their connection to someone else, thinking they understand someone else when they do not. Possibly they are connecting to something in their own imagination; possibly they are connecting to another entity altogether. But that is not the real problem with empathy. The real problem with empathy is that people empathize with the wrong people. They empathize with evil in an attempt to understand it. Worse, they empathize with evil in an attempt to change it. Worst of all, they attempt to empathize with someone who does not want to be empathized with, who does not want to be understood, who wants to remain closed, and who does remain closed. Then one *has* to start lying to oneself in order to maintain the illusion that empathy is love, that you are changing the other person with your "love," etc. That way lie many broken people, broken homes, victims of psychopaths who perhaps could have avoided being victims, who in fact victimize really defenseless people who can't be expected to know better, like children....

    Love is as complex and difficult to understand as it is important, and there is no greater loss, when the truth is lost, than the loss of love through lack of understanding what love is and is not. It is not through lack of love that love grows cold, but through lawlessness.

    I'm not sure I would characterize saints as ruthless, or even charming, exactly. But focused, mentally tough, fearless, mindful, and active? Without a doubt. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) wrote that antichrist is not found in the great deniers, but in the small affirmers. Are saints more like psychopaths than like the average "normal" person? Perhaps there is more truth in that than most people would like to think. Quite a bit of danger also, but that's kind of the thing about spiritual reality. You don't really get to avoid the danger. Genuine danger mitigation is a difficult and dangerous business. Just ask anyone who deals with evil people for a living. They are the ones who allow the rest of us the luxury of being tempted to think that it's not such a big deal, or that it doesn't exist at all. If you want to know whether evil exists, don't ask a theologian. Ask a law enforcement officer.

    ReplyDelete
  24. @tg - Some clarifying and important insights, thanks. The only point when I felt you drifted away was "Love is as complex and difficult to understand as it is important" - because it seems to me love is (and in a sense must be) simple and easy to understand - but it is the *consequences* of love which are complex and difficult and bewildering.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I was having an interesting conversation yesterday about the crew of the Enola Gay, and their culpability (or not) for what they did.

    ReplyDelete
  26. @MC - I have had this kind of 'heroes of dissent' conversation with people who themselves turn-out to be too afraid to refrain from harmful activity if it entailed that they have to refuse to fill in a form, or if the sanction against them was that colleagues might look at them askance, or if people might think they were weird or 'sad'.

    ReplyDelete